Thursday, January 31, 2019

A Balanced Look at Deep Fakes

Perhaps you've been exposed to some of the hype about so-called Deep Fakes (sometimes one word: deepfakes), which are computer generated videos of people that use software and AI to paste different faces onto bodies, or to make people apparently say things that they haven't said or do things they haven't done. 

The subject has come to higher-level attention in the last month, when YouTube channel VillainGuy posted this somewhat absurd video of Jennifer Lawrence answering questions at a press conference, except that he replaced her face with Steve Buscemi's.  The expressions, the mouth movements, and general believability are quite good.  If I didn't know this was supposed to be Jennifer Lawrence, just an actress at an interview, I'd have written it off as particularly homely actress getting attention for some reason.  In other words, I would have thought it was real.

From The Daily Dot, this "explanation"
Utilizing a free tool known as “faceswap,” VillainGuy proceeded to train the AI with high-quality media content of Buscemi. With the aid of a high-end graphics card and processor, “Jennifer Lawrence-Buscemi” was born. VillainGuy says the level of detail was achieved thanks to hours of coding and programming as well.
It might help to explain that this is close to the origins of the technology.  Deep Fakes was originally a Reddit subgroup that would take the faces of well known actresses and put them onto actresses in porn film clips.  This sparked public outrage over the more famous actresses rights to their images and at the end of 2017, Reddit banned the subgroup and deleted any of this involuntary porn from the site.

Today, nobody cares about that.  What everyone is spun up about is the potential for convincing voters some politician did something wrong; very wrong.
The video’s viral spread online Tuesday comes as numerous U.S. lawmakers sound the alarm over the potential of deepfakes to disrupt the 2020 election. A report from CNN indicates that the Department of Defense has begun commissioning researchers to find ways to detect when a video has been altered.

Late last year, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and other members of the House of Representatives wrote a letter to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates to raise concerns over the possible use of the technology by foreign adversaries.
In particular, some people are all wrapped up about "you'll never be able to believe you eyes again", or "how can we ever trust our senses again".

My reaction was, "I think I read this exact same argument about photo editing in the 1980s".

That's the balanced look found in "Deep Fakes: Let's Not Go Off The Deep End" written by Jeffrey Westling on the website Tech Dirt.
Much of the fear of deep fakes stems from the assumption that this is a fundamentally new, game-changing technology that society has not faced before. But deep fakes are really nothing new; history is littered with deceptive practices — from Hannibal's fake war camp to Will Rogers' too-real impersonation of President Truman to Stalin's disappearing of enemies from photographs. And society's reaction to another recent technological tool of media deception — digital photo editing and Photoshop — teaches important lessons that provide insight into deep fakes’ likely impact on society.

In 1990, Adobe released the groundbreaking Adobe Photoshop to compete in the quickly-evolving digital photograph editing market. This technology, and myriad competitors that failed to reach the eventual popularity of Photoshop, allowed the user to digitally alter real photographs uploaded into the program. ...

With the new capabilities came new concerns. That same year, Newsweek published an article called, “When Photographs Lie. ...
The truth is that trust in photography has gone down, which is appropriate.  We used to say "the camera doesn't lie", but even in my early years playing with film cameras (50 years ago), we used to try to get the camera to lie, to make up scenes that weren't there.  Before Photoshop, we called it "trick photography".  Photoshop and digital cameras have multiplied how often "cameras lie" by millions of times.  

When was the last time you saw some picture on a website that was open to comment and someone didn't say it was 'shopped?  "Dude, I can tell by the pixels around her neck that's not Jennifer Lawrence" - or the equivalent. 
Now, however, the same “death of truth” claims — mainly in the context of fake news and disinformation — ring out in response to deep fakes as new artificial-intelligence and machine-learning technology enter the market. What if someone released a deep fake of a politician appearing to take a bribe right before an election? Or of the president of the United States announcing an imminent missile strike? As Andrew Grotto, International Security Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, predicts, “This technology … will be irresistible for nation states to use in disinformation campaigns to manipulate public opinion, deceive populations and undermine confidence in our institutions.” Perhaps even more problematic, if society has no means to distinguish a fake video from a real one, any person could have plausible deniability for anything they do or say on film: It’s all fake news.
A weekend ago, the country turned itself inside out over a badly edited video of some teens from a Catholic school nobody had ever heard of interacting with old drum-beating protestor nobody had ever heard of.  The deceptive video went viral (is there a stronger word?) and was widely viewed even though the original video was discredited in under 12 hours.  People still cling to the original video because it reinforces their mental preconceptions. 

The lesson here isn't that videos lie (or not), it's that people shouldn't jump to conclusions and just forward something.  People should care about the truth and not just whatever gives them a momentary pleasure.

My view is that the same phenomenon that took place with Photoshop will take place with these fake videos.  They're likely to become extremely common because to some extent they can be done on a smart phone (by which I mean I don't know if they'd be as good as "Jennifer Buscemi"), while to do convincing things with Photoshop requires some skills.  Given the large number of deep fakes that will be coming from anyone with a phone who wants to make one, it sounds like we're going to see huge numbers of fakes that are relatively easy to dismiss.  We shouldn't forget that there are going to be some professionals somewhere capable of making really good fakes.  

Final words to Westling:
However, we should not assume that society will fall into an abyss of deception and disinformation if we do not take steps to regulate the technology. There are many significant benefits that the technology can provide, such as aging photos of children missing for decades or creating lifelike versions of historical figures for children in class. Instead of rushing to draft legislation, lawmakers should look to the past and realize that deep fakes are not some unprecedented problem. Instead, deep fakes simply represent the newest technique in a long line of deceptive audiovisual practices that have been used throughout history. So long as we understand this fact, we can be confident that society will come up with ways of mitigating new harms or threats from deep fakes on its own.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

I Have to Agree

Cartoonist Tom Stiglich makes a comment on New York's new law making abortion fully legal up until the moment a mother would give birth at a full term.  The law also removed requirements that a doctor perform the procedure opening the possibility it could be done by midwife or anyone convenient.   

With all the cheerleading and enthusiasm in the coverage it's hard to get a succinct summary of what's in it.  The cheering is because New York's law used to end abortions at 24 weeks, and some news organizations just don't understand why anyone thinks this bill is anything but good.  The thing is, 24 weeks is more like the actual Roe vs Wade decision, which legalized abortion in the first trimester.  In general, the US is so far past Roe that we can't see it in the rear view mirror.  (We're also past what most other "enlightened" countries allow)   This summary from WQAD here:
Not only will the law preserve access to abortions, it also removes abortion from the state’s criminal code. This would protect doctors or medical professionals who perform abortions from criminal prosecution. The law also now allows medical professionals who are not doctors to perform abortions in New York.

“The old law had criminal penalties. It was written that the doctor or professional could be held criminally liable,” Cuomo said during an interview on WNYC Wednesday.

The law also addresses late-term abortions. Under New York’s Reproductive Health Act, they can be performed after 24 weeks if the fetus is not viable or when necessary to protect the life of the mother.
That OB/GYN in the first news article linked  above is not the first OB/GYN I've read who says there is no such thing as an abortion required in the final trimester to save the life of the mother.  Modern medicine is way past that.  The day after that law was passed, several commentators said that if a baby should survive an attempt at an abortion, rescue or resuscitation was not required.  The law allowed someone to simply kill the child.  .

Faced with this expansion of abortion up to the end of pregnancy (which will only be if the mother's health is endangered - including her mental attitude?) Virginia is apparently saying "hold ma beer" and working on a bill that goes farther.

From the Legal Insurrection Blog:
On Monday, Virginia Democratic Delegate Kathy Tran introduced the “The Repeal Act“, an extreme legislative proposal that would significantly loosen Virginia’s abortion restrictions, particularly in the third trimester:
Tran’s legislation would have loosened rules on the legality of third-term abortion, which is currently only allowed if three doctors conclude a woman’s life or health is at a severe risk. Tran’s bill would have significantly lowered those standards, allowing third-trimester abortion on the advice of one doctor who could allow an abortion by certifying a pregnancy would “impair the mental or physical health of the woman.”
The bill would also loosen second-trimester abortion safeguards by doing away with the requirement that a state-licensed hospital performs them.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) is a big supporter, and most of the news I've heard today involve this rather shocking quote:
“If a mother is in labor…the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians & mother"
It's not exactly a long stretch to read that as,  "If a mother is in labor…the infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable.  Then if the mother and physician decide to terminate the process, the infant will be euthanized".  Perhaps they'd say "the infant will receive a post-natal abortion." 

Legal Insurrection points out that Tran’s proposal is part of a nationwide push.  Democrats seem to be terrified that the Supreme Court may be turning away from them, and their highest priority seems to be to ensure abortions are still available.  Elected Democrats in several states including Rhode Island, Vermont, and New Mexico are pushing to make “the right” to get a late-term abortion much easier.  Of course, we've already seen New York is involved, too.

I've recently heard that since Roe, the US alone has had 60 million abortions.  Five dozen million children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, cousins and others who never had a chance at their "right to life".  What a different place this country would be with them.  Remember when the rallying cry used to be "safe, legal and rare"?  That cry apparently went out the window years ago. 

As Mark Steyn once put it, "If abortion were the respectable medical procedure its proponents insist it is, there would be no such thing as "Planned Parenthood", anymore than there is a Planned Hernia megacorp."  The fact there is a PP says there's something else going on. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Blast From the Past

The last few weeks have brought some on and off work on something I haven't been doing in years.

Telescope making.

I got interested in astronomy as a kid and had my first good telescope by junior high school (a 4" f10 reflector - good is a relative term).  In those days, we'd see stories about people who made their own telescopes complete from grinding a mirror through making a mount for it.  There was a Mars opposition at some time during my high school years, and I bought a kit to make a mirror.  I was going to do it!

Except without someone to guide you through the rough points, it's not necessarily easy.  In my case, I banged the mirror on my work stand (a 55 gallon drum, which my parents graciously allowed in my bedroom) and took a big chip out of it.  Instead of finishing the mirror and painting the chip flat black, the accepted wisdom of how to fix such things,  I tried to grind the chip out and, well, never did get that 8" mirror made.

Fast forward 20 years to about 1990, now an adult working for Major SE Defense Contractor, when I got the bug again.  This time, it was the information age and the internet offered this precursor to the web called Newsgroups.  Buoyed on by the folks on sci.astro.amateur, and with the help of a really great book, I made my first successful mirror and first good telescope.  For those who will understand this, it's a 6" f8 mirror; that is, 48" focal length, and a Newtonian Reflector.  It makes a good size, but like a lot of addictions, it leaves you wanting more.  (I rush to add that those newsgroups are still there today!)

I started a bigger mirror, 10" f6.  I missed the focal length; it came out f5.6 which is still perfectly usable.  This was a more difficult mirror, but a 10" mirror gives a serious advantage over the smaller mirror.  Area goes up as radius squared, so it has a little under 3 times the area as the 6" mirror.  I completed the 10", again with some help from people I met on the newsgroups.  I built the telescope as a Dobsonian, altitude-azimuth style mount.  This is actually the second iteration of the telescope, when I replaced the typical cardboard tube with a metal tube.

By extreme luck, I completed this telescope in early 1994, the year that Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 crashed into Jupiter.  Nobody in all of human history had ever seen such a thing, and we saw the impact marks on Jupiter from our backyard through this telescope.  Armed with star charts and the old fashioned method of "star hopping" (going from landmark star to star in your finder scope until you find the object you're looking for), I spent several years exploring the sky with it. 

The story goes a bit sideways here.  These telescopes have a lot going for them but they have a serious drawback: they don't track an object so that you constantly have to reposition the scope while looking at a planet or other object to compensate for the apparent motion in the eyepiece.  On higher powers, say 300x or more, the earth's rotation can cause a planet to drift cross the field of view in perhaps ten seconds.  (As a side note, this is half the speed of a clock's hour hand.  A star on the celestial equator goes from east to west in 12 hours.  That's the same as going from 3 to 9 on a clock - only the clock does it twice as fast)

It's now in the early 2000s, and my career had gotten to the point where I had "more money than time" and with that the funds to buy a commercial telescope with a computerized tracking mount and a new feature called "GoTo".  With a GoTo system, you typically tell a handheld controller what object you want to view and it moves the telescope until it puts that object in your field of view.  I literally saw more deep sky objects in my first night with that scope than I used to see in a season without the GoTo feature. 

One night, we set up a test in the backyard.  We put the commercial telescope, an 11" compound reflector side by side with my 10" reflector.  We pushed the same magnification on both scopes.  Both Mrs. Graybeard and I thought the image in my telescope was better. 

This led to a plan to go back to using mine and getting a mount for it that allowed tracking and GoTo.   Much to my surprise, I don't have any pictures of the telescope at that time.  I repainted it blue because the original paint job chipped maddeningly (I bought the tube pre-painted inside and out) . 

This Christmas, I moved the telescope on the tripod out to the shop, as I've done every year, and one of the casters disintegrated - sort of a flat tire.  I had to put wheels on it.  I thought bigger casters would be better than the ones it had, so they got upgraded from 1-3/4" diameter to 4".  A little shop time was required to build mounting hardware for them.  Those are 4" casters simply because I had them.  They were for some project idea or other that got replaced. 

I had some generalized fixing that had to be done.  The mount was loose and I didn't recall how to tighten it.  I figured that out this week.  Finally, the telescope and mount could be reunited.  This isn't "done done" but is pretty close to it. 

The big telescope tube is 12" diameter and 60" long, for scale.  Oh, for closure, look to the right of the black mount and you'll see and odd-shaped blue structure with a white disk on its side.  That's my 6" f8 reflector that I started the story with.  (The black box with the orange strap on a cart is my smoker.)  It's in a square, plywood tube, but it's a Dobsonian style mount, too. 

I connected the controller computer to the mount and turned it on.  It acted like I'd turned it off the minute before.  Never missed a beat.  There's still a little bit of maintenance to do on things but it's usable.  The thing is, I haven't used it since the year was in single digits, like '08 or '09.  Our neighborhood trees (including my own) have grown up so much that it's difficult to see the sky, and what we can see is light polluted.  To use it now, the 4" casters won't cut it.  Those are fine for the porch, but to get it out to where it can see even a sliver of sky, I need 20 or 26" mountain bike tires on the mount.  Or garden cart wheels.  And that's another redesign and building project.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Solar-Powered “Pseudo-Satellite” Aircraft Logs First Flight of 26 Days

Almost five years ago, Airbus announced the Zephyr 8 electric drone for extended surveillance uses.  They've coined the term High Altitude Pseudo Satellite (HAPS) for the spindly-looking aircraft, intended to stay in the stratosphere for long periods of time.  As you might expect, the Zephyr 8 replaces their first development aircraft called the Zephyr 7, and development on that vehicle started in 2008.  The Zephyr 7 program successfully achieved several world records, including the longest flight duration without refuelling full 14 days, as well as very high altitude flights of 70,740ft.

Last July, the Zephyr (Airbus sites never use the "8") had its first test flight, starting on July 11 and completing virtually 26 days of flight (25 days, 23 hrs, and 57 mins).  The novelty is that the super lightweight (unmanned) aircraft uses photovoltaic cells and batteries to drive its two low power engines.  That means it should be able to fly for an essentially unlimited amount of time.  It flies well above the weather, even extremely intense thunderstorms ordinarily top out a few miles below 70,000 feet, so it can recharge all day then use the stored power overnight. 

Zephyr is designed to offer capabilities that fill a gap and complement the roles filled by satellites, UAVs, and manned aircraft by providing long-term local satellite-like services. Applications include maritime surveillance and services, border patrol missions, communications, forest fire detection and monitoring, or navigation, often summarized as ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance).

The Zephyr, with the persistence of a satellite and the flexibility of a UAV, flies in the stratosphere at an average altitude of 21 km/70,000 feet. The ultra-lightweight weighs just 75 kg/165 pounds and has a wingspan of 25 meters/82 feet (Fig. 2). Payload is approximately 2.5 kg (5.5 lb.). The only civil aircraft to operate at this altitude was the supersonic Concorde, and the military U2 and SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft. The powerplant consists of two custom permanent-magnet synchronous motors rated at 0.60 hp (0.45 kW) each. [BOLD Added: SiG]
The batteries are the novel technology here, but don't seem to be "world beating" in specific energy, offering 435 Watt*hours per kilogram (Wh/kg).  Current best-in-class numbers I've heard of for lithium batteries run in the vicinity of 900 Wh/kg, but what can be done in the lab is different from what can be done in the highly conservative world that Airbus demands. 
[T]he batteries, [are] provided by Amprius Inc. Their silicon-anode technology was originally developed at Stanford University and uses silicon nanowires in the negative side of a lithium-ion battery instead of the conventional carbon. (For more details on this technology, see “Stanford Start-Up Amprius Aims to Mass Produce High-Energy Lithium Ion Batteries” in Scientific American.)
(Amprius won’t divulge its Zephyr-related battery-capacity and weight numbers due to their “proprietary nature.”) [Note: edits in brackets [] by me - SiG]

Airbus' sales page on the Zephyr includes some missions they foresee for the little aircraft.  With a payload of 5.5 pounds, it doesn't strike me as a particularly versatile aircraft, but I must be looking at this all wrong.  I can't imagine Airbus designing an aircraft without several target missions in mind, including the required payload and duration. 

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The New Economic Theory Behind the Entire Democrat Left Wing

There's a new theory behind the rantings of Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Occasional Cortex and the leftward running Democratic presidential candidates.  Well, actually, it's not new.  And it kind of dignifies it to call it a "theory".  It's a particularly stupid idea, which is to say it's to do what they always do: just keep spending what you don't have.  They just gave it a name they can hide behind.

Hat tip to 357 Magnum for the link to an article on Modern Monetary Theory (MMT).  "The Worst Economic Idea Since Socialism - Explained Using Bikini Girl Graphics" at Wilder, Wealthy and Wise. I hope it's obvious that you don't do an article on economics explained by graphs printed over pictures of girls in bikinis without the required amount of goofing around and lots of snark. 
The main idea of MMT is that since government creates money there are exactly no limits to how much money government can create.  Back when money was backed by gold (say, with one ounce of gold being worth $20) there was a physical limit – by definition you couldn’t have more $20 gold coins than you had ounces of gold.  MMT says, “Hey, since Nixon took the world off of the gold standard, we’ve been making up this money stuff anyway.  So let’s go all in.”  This is not exactly like a drunken 21 year old with Mom and Dad’s credit card in Las Vegas.  Not exactly.  The credit card has a credit limit.

So, under MMT, there is no limit to how much money government can print.  The genius idea (from Bill Mitchell, an Australian economist who came up with the name “Modern Monetary Theory”, and whose dog’s name is “Dog” and daughter’s name is “Girl”, and whose pet name for his wife is “That Woman On The Couch”) is that there is also no limit to the amount of money that government can spend.  This is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s high school prom fantasy where Justin Bieber picks her up in a pink helicopter and makes her all warm in her special place.  Oh, and by special place I mean other people’s wallets:  this is a family-friendly blog, get your mind out of the gutter.  The implications are stunning.  “Why not just pay for everything?  The government can just print the money, right?”

We're not making this up.  She actually said this - and then she said the world was going to end in 12 years and we "just pay for" whatever it costs to meet the "Green New Deal" dream costs, too.

Getting back to the Modern Monetary Theorists, this is deep thought, folks.  Mitchell actually uses an example to try to correlate money created by QE to the number of points football teams can score in a game.
An analogy used on a website that promotes MMT is that football referees don’t have a limit to the number of points that can be awarded during a football game.  There’s no requirement that they come from somewhere, and giving someone else a point doesn’t take a point away from you.  Therefore points are infinite and don’t change the way the game is played.
How does this relate to money?  What?  Are you some kind of hater?  It's some sort of tortured, brain-dead, logic.

People don't have enough money?   Just add a zero to every printed bill and instantly people have ten times as much money!  Never mind consequences, there won't be any because they say there won't!  Dr. Mitchell thinks we can have all of this infinite money and low interest rates.  We just need high taxes to take the excess money out of circulation... so government can buy something or other.
You see, Marx’s theory (as well as MMT) both incorporate a fascinating idea – that the value of an item is based on the inputs that it takes to make the item.  So, from that standpoint, our armpit-hair artisan should be able to charge the cost of her Xir schooling (plus that summer in Europe with Marco!) and her Xir apartment and food cost for that armpit hair sculpture.  It is that valuable.

Real world economics that don’t result in economic collapse and the starvation of millions of people would disagree.  An armpit hair sculpture is worth only what someone is willing to pay for it, and not a penny more.  It’s a market, and it’s based on free exchange.  It’s that simple idea of the market setting the price that makes capitalist economies work.  And it’s the brutality of the market that ensures that armpit-hair artists have to have a real job actually producing things that people want.  Like coffee.
There has to be a balance between mocking this and emphasizing that people trying to run the entire country really believe this.  Don't think it's not popular to run on the idea of "infinite free stuff for everyone"?  Have you been watching lately?  As Wilder, Wealthy and Wise put it.
Ideas like MMT seem to be too good to be true because they are too good to be true.  They always end in failure, poverty, and human suffering.  Thankfully they can use that taxation sponge to soak up all the blood after the revolution.

(Another link from 357 Magnum - this time to

Saturday, January 26, 2019

It's the Unknown Unknowns That Get You

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once said something really profoundly important in a press conference in 2002.  Talking about going into Iraq before the start of Gulf War II, he said there were different levels of things they needed to account for.
There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.
Naturally, the language generated all sorts of derision from the people of the press who aren't familiar with formalized problem-solving.  Most of the engineers I know just quietly nodded in understanding - or thought it was pretty unremarkable.  Generally speaking, it's the unknown unknowns that cause your biggest problems, as Rumsfeld said in that speech.

The problem of unknown unknowns is one of the biggest challenges facing autonomous vehicles and driver assistance systems (ADAS).  I find it a bit funny that there's a growing undercurrent in the industry that goes, "hey!  this is harder than we thought!"  Suddenly, the predictions are becoming less rosy.   There are questions that maybe they're pushing ahead into road tests a bit too soon.

Trade magazine Microwaves & RF takes a dive into some of the issues and comes away talking about unknown unknowns.

It seems to me that one of the biggest problems in ADAS has been that an assumption has been taken as fact.  That assumption is that autonomous cars will be safer than human-driven cars.  This assumption is far from proven.  It's a popular assumption because it makes sense on some level: we all know about accidents caused by inattention: falling asleep at the wheel, texting or other distractions.  We also know about accidents caused by following too closely where a robotic system can have faster reflexes (perhaps aided by vehicle to vehicle communication).  Just as I expect my CNC machine to not get distracted and turn a screw too many times, we expect the autonomous car to not text another car or otherwise not pay attention.

What escapes our notice is that humans deal with an astonishing number of variables while driving; from changes in the environment (rain, sleet, dust, degraded lane lines, etc.) to changes in the road itself.  Everyone recognizes that younger, less experienced drivers make more mistakes than older, more experienced drivers, but they expect the "younger, less experienced autonomous cars" to make even fewer mistakes.

Maybe the safety record of human drivers really isn't that bad.  Maybe driving is very hard and people are really quite good at it.

The RAND corporation did a study (pdf warning) to compute the number of miles some autonomous systems would have to drive to demonstrate the same or better safety as a human driver.  The results are surprising.   They conclude these systems would need to drive 275 million miles to statistically prove they're equivalent to the safety a human can provide.  This plot shows the number of vehicle miles, in millions, vs the requirement and the number of miles driven by the fleets of three testing companies.

If a test car drove 45 mph, 275 million miles would take it 6.11 million hours, or just about 700 years of driving 24/7/365.  Sure that could be divided up: have 100 autonomous vehicles driving at 45 mph and you reduce that to 7 years.  Congratulations, you've now created the largest autonomous vehicle fleet in the world.

Don't say you're going to use artificial intelligence, that just puts the question off onto verifying the AI.  As the article puts it:
There’s a general agreement that the only way autonomous vehicles can become a reality is through the application of machine learning. The possible scenarios a vehicle could encounter are basically infinite and it’s impossible to hard-code the algorithms to successfully negotiate all of them. Instead, massive data sets are being recorded along with how humans react to the driving scenarios that are then fed into neural networks.

While this allows design engineers to reasonably tackle the problem of algorithm design, it makes the test engineer’s job much harder. Algorithms are now a black box. This requires more extensive testing because you don’t have a fundamental understanding of the code that can be used to generate test scenarios. Rather, you need to test against almost every conceivable scenario to ensure the algorithms function properly.
Right now, the industry is kind of in the "Wild Wild West" mode: everything is changing as developers try to get an edge on their competitors.  Worldwide safety and testing standards haven't quite been finalized.  This all combines to create a situation that demands closer looks at everything.  Test engineers have a rough task in front of them. 

Friday, January 25, 2019

A Year After Parkland Shooting, Florida Students Are No Safer

That's the conclusion of the Chairman of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, Pinellas county Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who says the various school districts around the state "have no sense of urgency in making our schools safer".

I don't want to act like I think it was a difficult prediction on my part, but I nailed it last March.  After then Florida Governor Rick "Voldemort" Scott signed the mess formerly known as SB7026 into law, I had said that there are ways around the good features of the law but not the bad ones, so nothing good would happen. 
The strongest feature is the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, which allows people who work on school property to carry concealed.  As bonus, the volunteers get to take 132 hours of classroom and range training to get better at their new role as marshals. ... The bad part of this is that a late compromise took teachers out of eligibility for the program, so in effort to say, "we're not arming teachers", they took away the teachers' right to defend themselves.

The way around it, though, is that the local school district and sheriff's department can decide not to allow the program. In a county as sapphire blue as Broward, what do you think the chances are the Sheriff Israel will allow it? A sheriff known for chumming around with Hillary and Obama - before he was known for assigning responding officers to "wait outside while students died". You know how it goes, there's two chances: slim and none, and slim already left town.
It seems statistically hard to come up with any organizations as unlikely to take responsibility for anything as local school boards.  Want to guess how many school districts have decided to take advantage of the Guardian Program?  How many added specially trained security forces?  There are 67 counties in Florida; I'm not sure it's always one school district in a county, but there's at least one per county so it's a good approximation.

Two.  Out of 67.  Call it 3%.  I'm sorry to say that my county isn't even one of them. 

What the law and the school districts have done for Florida schools is to recreate the exact same solution as that of Broward Schools on that horrible day in Parkland.  MSD High School had one armed person, the deputy who single-handedly changed the name of his department to the Coward County Sheriff's Department, the deputy who refused to engage while the shooter was killing students under his guard.  One officer isn't adequate for a campus that big to start with; this officer just made the bad situation worse. 
Gualtieri asserts that widespread use of the guardian program as authorized by the law would mitigate deputy shortages being faced by most sheriffs’ offices around the state.  He also noted some Sheriff’s Departments are refusing to train school personnel as allowed, but apparently not mandated by the law.  He wants the legislature to mandate that training should a school board adopt the guardian plan.  That makes sense and is just one example of the flawed thinking of the legislature as they quickly reacted to have something in place by the end of the last legislative session. [BOLD added: SiG] 
It's hard to look at this and think that any progress has been made.  It's hard not to conclude that Parkland isn't the tiniest bit safer than it was last Valentines Day. The same goes for virtually every school in the state.  You know it's going to happen again because nothing has been done to keep it from happening again.  Somewhere, some psychotic teen is dreaming of how they're going to rack up the highest body count anywhere and knows just where to find the unarmed, unprotected victims: right in the gun free zone where they're always found.

It's a rule of thumb that any law named after a victim ends up being a legislative crap fest.  I should have expanded that to include any law named after a notorious crime is a crap fest, but never put it in those words. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Does an 8 Year Old Physics Experiment Prove Quantum Computers Can't Exist?

Quantum computers aren't strangers to these pages.  I've written on them several times and some quotes from a piece last January will serve well as a quick introduction.

Most people have heard of the term "bits" - a shortened form of "Binary digITS" - and they know that computers process bits.  Most have also heard that "it's all ones and zeroes"; that is, computers process signals that are considered either "on or off", the logic one and logic zero levels.  At the lowest circuit level in most computers, those bits are handled by logic gates, which are simply groups of transistors used as switches.  In the quantum computers, ones and zeroes are the direction of current flow in super-cooled Niobium wire.
... in his quantum computer, a loop of super cold niobium wire has all of its electrons going in one direction and at the exact same time the same piece of wire has all of its electrons going in the opposite direction.  Their niobium wire is exhibiting quantum behavior in a macroscopic object.
The dirty little secret is that it's very hard to determine if a computer is really operating on quantum principles.  Companies and government agencies are paying millions of dollars for them and they're not even sure they're getting a quantum computer and not a conventional computer.
Surely it can't be that hard right?  Why not take it apart and probe it?  Or why not run a sample computation, a benchmark if you will, on it and another computer to see which is faster.  Unfortunately, it's not that easy.  It violates the laws of quantum physics to be able to look inside (probe it), so the system can't be probed.  When a quantum system is observed, it collapses to one state or the other.  In the example from the original  paragraph, if one measures the current flow in any of the 512 niobium wire loops it will only appear to be moving in one direction, not both.
Got that?  Since quantum theory says it's impossible to observe the system without changing it, nobody knows if these quantum computers being sold are relying on quantum principles.

In June of 2011, an international team of researchers, led by University of Toronto physicist Aephraim Steinberg of the Centre for Quantum Information and Quantum Control, have found a way to observe photons in a dual slit experiment without changing them by applying a new, modern measurement technique to the historic two-slit interferometer experiment in which a beam of light shone through two slits results in an interference pattern on a screen behind.
That famous experiment, and the 1927 Neils Bohr and Albert Einstein debates, seemed to establish that you could not watch a particle go through one of two slits without destroying the interference effect: you had to choose which phenomenon to look for.
These researchers demonstrated that they can watch a photon and see both phenomena; they can observe the system without changing it. 
With this new experiment, the researchers have succeeded for the first time in experimentally reconstructing full trajectories which provide a description of how light particles move through the two slits and form an interference pattern. Their technique builds on a new theory of weak measurement that was developed by Yakir Aharonov's group at Tel Aviv University. Howard Wiseman of Griffith University proposed that it might be possible to measure the direction a photon (particle of light) was moving, conditioned upon where the photon is found. By combining information about the photon's direction at many different points, one could construct its entire flow pattern, i.e. the trajectories it takes to a screen.

"In our experiment, a new single-photon source developed at the National Institute for Standards and Technology in Colorado was used to send photons one by one into an interferometer constructed at Toronto. We then used a quartz calcite, which has an effect on light that depends on the direction the light is propagating, to measure the direction as a function of position. Our measured trajectories are consistent, as Wiseman had predicted, with the realistic but unconventional interpretation of quantum mechanics of such influential thinkers as David Bohm and Louis de Broglie," said Steinberg.

The original double-slit experiment played a central role in the early development of quantum mechanics, leading directly to Bohr's formulation of the principle of complementarity. Complementarity states that observing particle-like or wave-like behaviour in the double-slit experiment depends on the type of measurement made: the system cannot behave as both a particle and wave simultaneously. Steinberg's recent experiment suggests this doesn't have to be the case: the system can behave as both.
The implications here for quantum computing are important.  The friend who found this article says it proves quantum computers are impossible.  I'm not sure it goes that far, but it shows that at least it's not impossible that quantum computers can be probed; the method used in this paper to observe these photons might not be amenable to measuring currents, counting electrons or other measurements required on a computer but another method might work.  On a more abstract level, what does this say about the superposition of currents in the niobium wires in the D-Wave computer?  It was hard for me to grasp how "a loop of super cold niobium wire has all of its electrons going in one direction and at the exact same time the same piece of wire has all of its electrons going in the opposite direction" could be used to make decisions; how it could be useful.  As others commented in my post a year ago, that sounds a lot like zero current flowing.

Sorry, but I love this picture of Shroedinger's cat.  We found that Schrodinger's cat learned to create a quantum superposition of kibbles in each of the parallel universes he visited, so that alive or dead, he had an unlimited supply of kibbles.  Photo from Quartz  magazine article.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Covington Catholic School Kids Timeline - As Documented

Unless you were fully unplugged for the last few days, you know the broad brush of the story.  The lying, deceitful, left wing news media got some craftily edited video that made it look like a group of kids from a Catholic School were harassing some other people, with the image everyone focuses on being an old Native American banging his drum literally four inches from the face of a teen.  Because this 17 year-old happened to be wearing a MAGA hat, he automatically became the center of the storm and a phenomenally vicious Twitter war erupted over these kids ... because reasons?  Somehow they decided these Catholic high school kids were the locus of evil in the world.  Within minutes virtue-signalling leftists were Tweeting that children in MAGA hats should be shot on sight on or fed into wood chippers, and that the hat itself was destroying their minds. 

It wasn't long before other people with their ubiquitous cellphone cameras started putting forward more complete videos and other angles that showed the kids weren't instigating anything.  Much of the media recanted and said they blew it, but a sizeable chunk of the media says, "we may not be right about this exact incident, but we'll find something on them".  As an aside there isn't a lawyer alive who doesn't know that it's a useful trick to get an opponent to blurt something out that they'd rather not say.  It doesn't matter if the trial judge strikes it from the record; those words can't be taken back and they aren't forgotten.  Similarly, the words said about these kids may have been retracted with a quiet "never mind", but the attacks will probably haunt them forever.  God forbid one of them get appointed to the Supreme Court some day!

Glenn Beck's Radio Program and the BlazeTV/CRTV empire gives Glenn resources normal people don't have, and in this case, Glenn paid a staff of eight investigators to go through all the video they could find and reconstruct what happened, minute by minute.  It's 24 minutes long but will explain things you don't see elsewhere.  Here's the YouTube link in case they turn off embedding. 

At the start, a group of very accusatory protesters, the so-called Black Hebrew Israelites, are telling the Native Americans that the reason they lost their land is that Native Americans don't worship the Black Hebrews' one true god.  They keep insulting the Native Americans and escalating their insults, clearly trying to start a fight.  Tensions between the two groups are reaching the boiling point and about to turn into a street brawl when the Black Hebrew Israelites start urging the Native Americans to attack the school kids, throwing them in the middle of the mix. 

At this point, the guy with the drum comes forward.  By now you know that's Nathan Phillips, an old activist who has been revealed to be a fake.  The last Marines had been evacuated from Vietnam the year before he joined.  The story he has told the press is several outright lies, revealed in the videos that Glenn's team put together.

Some might say, "Nathan Phillips is a despicable liar?  Why is it a surprise for a leftist activist to be a despicable liar? "  I can see that argument.  Far more despicable are the school, their Catholic Archdiocese, their mayor and the other people who should nominally be backing the kids up.  As far as I can tell, these kids behaved in an exemplary manner in a bad situation.

Monday, January 21, 2019

A Couple of Florida Gunny Updates

It has been apparent for quite a while that the fight for gun rights is shifting to the states - where the officials can be bought for less and Bloomberg's money goes farther.  After the Fall Fiasco (what I'm calling the election) the one thing we knew for certain was that our new Agriculture Commissioner would be Nikki Fried; those of you from outside Florida may not realize this puts her in charge of the concealed weapons licensing in the state.  As I said at that time:
I honestly don't know if that's pronounced "Freed", like set free, or "Fried" like fried chicken.
All I really had against her could be summed up in a description that's easy to put together out of her campaign website: "she's a liberal, activist, big city lawyer".  In her campaign, Fried promised to make the focus of her administration pushing medical marijuana and opposing the NRA.
Both of her priorities are a wasted of taxpayer money.  I'm not sure how the secretary of agriculture has any say whatsoever over the medical marijuana industry. 

Today I learned from The Truth About Guns (TTAG) that Fried has chosen anti-gun activist Mary Barzee Flores to be the actual Deputy Commissioner in that role.  Official press release here on the Department's web site

The photo, complete with the Demanding Mommies' logo and tagline, is from her 2018 (last fall's) campaign for the House of Representatives.  She campaigned on "taking on the NRA" (exactly what Fried said), closing the "gun show loophole" and all the other cliche's that the Demanding Mommies, Bloomy, and the other dependably uninformed groups all spread around.

So what?  How important is she?  Good question.  The actual laws that regulate the process are established.  It's true that the previous Ag Commissioner and Governor DeSantis' opponent in the primaries, Adam Putnam, did a lot to streamline the process and make it easier to get and renew your Florida concealed weapons license.  My guess on that it is if something is a department policy and not state law, it's easy for Flores to ignore it in an attempt to slow down licensing.  I can't see how she can create new laws to require things that currently aren't required, but I can see wait time stretching out, working hours for the department employees stretching out and more aggravation in the process.

On the other hand, without prior solid evidence to the contrary, I don't think it's a preordained conclusion that she'll follow the law in every detail.  She might welcome a fight with state Senate or House to try and get some Cred as being on Bloomie's side.

While on the topic of the state gun laws, I want to call your attention to two things on the blog of Jon Gutmacher, the Orlando Gun Lawyer and "the man who wrote the book" about Florida's gun laws

First, Jon is starting to update the new laws in the state legislature and released his first summary of one yesterday.
Understanding Florida House Bill 6007:

Florida Statute 790.06(12) provides a list of places where carry per your CWL is not authorized. House Bill  6007 proposes to remove the language in subsection (13) about any college or university campus from the restriction on your CWL, and thereby authorizes it.  Thus, if passed, anyone with a valid CWL will be allowed to carry at a college or university campus.  But, you still can't open carry as that is prohibited by F.S. 790.053.
Second, last week Jon posted a call to sign up for an email from him as a sign to contact your legislators when he thinks it's important, good or bad.
To join just put "JOIN THE FIGHT"  in your subject line,  and email me at:   I don't need or want any additional information, although adding a first and last name somewhere doesn't hurt.
Does contacting your representatives matter?  I don't know.  I think it's true that having more contacts is better than a one or two.  I asked him what he thought and he answered frankly.
emails don't do much other than when in large numbers give notice to legislators that it is in the public eye, and they probably then check the numbers as numbers.  Phone calls to staff are more important, and get lots more attention.  Again -- the more, the more attention paid.  Same with faxes - assuming anyone still has one.  Letters -- even more - but by the time they get there, the event is usually over,  and again -- a numbers game.   ten, twenty, thirty -- probably gets a sigh from staff, a hundred opens an eye or two,  a few hundred and up get noticed and usually action of some type.  But -- rarely are the numbers there.  
So Jon isn't particularly sanguine about the prospects, but until the lead is really flying and everyone is openly talking about the ongoing Civil War, we've got to keep trying.  Doing nothing and throwing up your hands is a sure way to end up before the firing squad.  Or the wood chipper

A tweet from Hollywood Producer Genocidal Jack Morrissey who thinks any children who disagree with him should  be shoved in a wood chipper alive - thanks to J. KB @ Gun Free Zone.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Two Massive US Oil Finds Have to Shake Up the Long Term

It seems to have slipped under the news wall of the never ending bickering of politics that just since the start of December two new oil field discoveries could put the US into the top few countries in the world in proven oil reserves.

A couple of weeks ago, BP announced they had discovered 1 billion barrels of oil and two new oil fields they didn't know they had in the Gulf of Mexico.  About a month before that the US Geological Survey announced a recent study of the Delaware Basin portion of Texas and New Mexico’s Permian Basin that showed it contained 46.3 billion barrels of oil, 281 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 20 billion barrels of natural gas liquids.  It's not clear that I can just add this 47.3 billion barrels of oil onto the 25 billion barrels that Wikipedia shows for known US oil reserves, but they seem like new discoveries so I can.
Although the USGS has previously assessed conventional oil and gas resources in the Permian Basin province, this is the first assessment of continuous resources in the Wolfcamp shale and Bone Spring Formation in the Delaware Basin portion of the Permian.
The sum of those, 72 billion barrels still falls short of earlier estimates of how much oil the US has.

It may surprise you that the International Energy Agency (IEA) says the US is the world's number one oil producer and 2019 will solidify that lead.  You see, OPEC, Russia and others can't make enough profit at current prices and they're cutting their production to push prices up.  Unintentionally, OPEC and Russia are helping American oil producers.
Alongside Russia and nine other nations, top oil exporter Saudi Arabia struck a deal with the rest of OPEC in December to keep 1.2 million barrels per day (b/d) off the market from the start of January.

“While the other two giants voluntarily cut output, the U.S., already the biggest liquids supplier, will reinforce its leadership as the world’s number one crude producer,” the Paris-based IEA said Friday.

“By the middle of the year, U.S. crude output will probably be more than the capacity of either Saudi Arabia or Russia.”
Back in 2015, I posted a story about a Saudi/OPEC plot to kill the American oil producers.  Since the Saudis can pump oil at $30/bbl, and we can't, they wagered they could kill off American production.  Funny thing about that: within three months it was basically failing.  I'm not saying they didn't cause hardship but American companies did what they're best at: they innovated.  They dropped their per barrel cost.
The IEA has previously touted the “growing influence ” of the U.S. in global oil markets, saying such a dramatic rise in crude output could soon challenge the market share of OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia and non-OPEC heavyweight Russia.
I don't know if the prices in this graphic are valid, but take them as approximating the truth - the red price for Brent Crude is certainly wrong it was $62.59 at last market closing.  What it shows is the per barrel price these other countries need to keep their economies running.  The closing price Friday was $53/bbl. 

At the time this was written, it was said that Russia needed a price of $100/bbl to break even.

I suspect the exact price an oil company can sell at depends on the oil field.  Nevertheless, looking at these 2014 prices these countries need, one can see why they're in various degrees of bad shape.  I doubt that we'll see prices over $100 for a long time, because the higher that price goes, the more fields in the US open for production and act to keep the price down. 

Interesting times, no? 

Saturday, January 19, 2019

I Ain't Telling Him - You Tell Him

Had this great idea for a post tonight, only I can't make it work.  Happens sometimes.  So - a favorite image I got long ago.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Synthetic Fish Used for Dam Research

My readers and friends in the Pacific Northwest will probably see this story differently than most.  If you're not in the Pacific Northwest salmon country, and I'm about as far from there as you can get and still be on the North American Continent, you might not realize that transporting salmon around hydroelectric dams is a big problem - and a small industry.  According to one source I read five years ago, the spent over $500 million transporting about 2 million salmon around dams on the Columbia river - or $250 per fish.  I would imagine you could buy them airfare and fly them inland for not much less.  (Imagine if you will an airport waiting area populated by ticket-holding salmon who are reading newspapers, fiddling with their smartphones and semi-patiently waiting for their plane to leave). 

One of the design problems in the PNW is damming the rivers that flow into the Pacific to get better resources for the people living there, while accommodating the salmon and other fish that swim upstream to spawn as well as their tiny offspring that go back down the river to the ocean later in the year.  How do engineers design systems to accommodate the fish as well as the human concerns?

The first questions I'd ask is about the limits of the design: are we designing for minimum pressure change, or turbulence or just what?  What are the values for those things now, and how much better do we need to make them?  How much can the fish stand versus what do we subject them to?

Enter the Synthetic Fish (which could be a good name for a band):

The synthetic fish, clearly not a simulated fish (doesn't look particularly salmonoid to you, does it?) is a product of Advanced Telemetry Systems, and the Dept of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).  They are built around the Shish Sensor, developed at PNNL to monitor and transmit what happens to fish as they pass through turbulent waters and turbines at hydroelectric facilities. The Sensor Fish is a small autonomous device filled with sensors that analyze the physical stressors fish experience when passing through or around dams.
The sensors provide researchers with accurate physical measurements such as acceleration, pressure, rotational velocity, and orientation, all of which convey what real fish experience during downstream passages. Each sensor provides roughly 2,000 measurements per second and typically takes less than two minutes to pass through the dam due to the water’s velocity.
Once the Sensor Fish comes out on the other side of the dam, an automatic retrieval feature brings it to the surface. Radio signals and flashing LEDs on the Sensor Fish enable them to be collected quickly from boats stationed nearby.
This seems like a good way to measure the environment to see what the fish are exposed to, but I don't know of a way to figure out what they can stand without either finding systems they survive and saying "it's more than that" or systems that kill the fish and saying "it's less than that" - which I think is how we got the designs we have.  The alternative is going to be subjecting a population of fish to a lot of tests that will kill some of them.  

They say that there's a lot of stations the fish go through and they generally do pretty well, but there's always room for improvement.
“There is a big need for the type of data provided by the Sensor Fish,” says ATS president Peter Kuechle. “Mature hydropower industries in the U.S. and Europe hope to modify operations to help fish survive. In Europe, regulations insist on testing for this information, and certainly there’s a need for the data in emerging hydropower projects globally.”
But you can never have too much data.  After all, the Sensor Fish looks to be a few inches long.  What about smaller fish?
ATS has also licensed two other fish technologies developed at PNNL. The Juvenile Salmon Acoustic Telemetry System (JSATS) and its advanced decoder software can track fish passing through dams and beyond and monitor fish behavior. PNNL developed the JSATS transmitters and battery to be so small it can be injected into young fish. This eliminates the need to surgically implant a tag, which puts extra stress on a fish. JSATS includes the smallest acoustic transmitters in the world.

PNNL has also recently developed an even smaller tag that can be used on the tiniest fish, including juvenile eel and lamprey. “This new acoustic fish tag meets the Army Corps of Engineers’ JSATS specifications and weighs less than 0.01 oz.,” says Kuechle. “JSATS is complementary to our long history of developing innovative and cost-effective wildlife tracking products.” PNNL is now working to develop a self-powered tag for long-term monitoring.
I still can't help but think that if you really want to find out what the limits are someone's going to put the salmon fry into a virtual Cuisinart and see how much they can take.  Salmon milk shakes anyone?

Thursday, January 17, 2019

I Think Comrade Pelosi Thinks This is a Bad Thing

In yet another example of how the "inside the Beltway" culture of DC is so different from the rest of the country, I'm sure you heard that Comrade Speaker Peloski warned President Trump to postpone the State of the Union address.  In return, the President cancelled a trip that the Comrade Speaker was about to leave on, to Afghanistan, Egypt and Belgium.  She was to fly on a military aircraft under Trump's jurisdiction as Commander in Chief, making it simple for him to cancel the trip. 

He pointed out she could book her own flights on a commercial carrier if she wanted.  

A look at the news showed exchanges like:
  • It was irresponsible of Trump to do this.
  • It was irresponsible of Pelosi to say the SOTU should be postponed
  • Oh, yeah, well it's irresponsible of you to say it was irresponsible of her. 
  • OH, YEAH?!?  It's irresponsible of you to point out it's irresponsible of me to...
Followed by potty insults and temper tantrums.

What the Comrade Speaker doesn't seem to realize is that for those of us who don't live, eat, breath and sleep politics, the SOTU not being on TV really isn't punishment.  It's more like a reward.  Hey, I'm all about equal treatment: I've blasted Obama SOTU addresses and made fun of Trump's first.   I don't watch much TV in the evenings; I'm here writing, but when the SOTU is on it's almost hard not to hear it.  For days. 

This "whole president does a televised speech in front of a joint session of congress" thing is new.  Obviously it didn't happen before television, and 112 years of the Republic went without a speech at all, just a letter from the president.  Woodrow Wilson revived the practice, which Jefferson had killed because he thought it seemed "too regal"; too much like the king addressing the subjects.  It has only been an every year event, televised, with the predictable one side sitting while the other side is standing clapping scheme since the end of Jimmy Carter's term. 

As long as I'm on the topic of politics, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out for any who might have missed it that Occasional Cortex said, and I quote,
I also think it’s encouraging because this is my sixth day in Congress and they’re out of all their artillery. ...  Dude, you’re all out of bullets, you’re all out of bombs, you’re all out of all this stuff. What have you got left? I’m six days into the term, and you already used all your ammo. So enjoy being exhausted for the next two years while we run train on the progressive agenda.
Now it's possible she didn't mean gang rape or sex with multiple people at once, the usual meaning of the term.  It's possible she didn't mean they're going to rape the conservatives and push through her policies.  Maybe she's just ditzy enough to use the term to mean something like "run it through like a train".  And maybe not. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Confidential to Bernie and AOC - We Already Know Medicare For All Won't Work

There's a wonderful quote attributed to Thomas Sowell that says, "It is usually futile to try to talk facts and analysis to people who are enjoying a sense of moral superiority in their ignorance".

Despite the warning from the obvious genius of Dr. Sowell, I'm going to try to present facts and analysis for AOC, Bernie, and all of the idiots running around now saying we need to have a nationalized healthcare system like those other countries.  Perhaps you have friends or family members who are parroting the same lines and this will be useful to you. 

We already know it will fail because it is currently failing in every single country that has it.

This is drawn from an article by author Jim Kelly at FEE (Foundation for Economic Education) called "How We Know Single-Payer Won't Lower Health Care Costs" and it's in the format of four questions for anyone advocating for this.

Let's start at the top.  Bernie and the Bunch say we'll save money because the government doesn't have to make those awful profits that insurance companies make.  Bernie says we'll lower costs 20%, others have gone as high as saving 60%.  This is really easy to dispel because all of those insurance company financial annual reports are available.  As Kelly puts it:
Unfortunately, outrage buys fewer tongue depressors than one might hope. The top health insurers averaged 4.1 percent profit in 2017 (per Yahoo Finance). That’s taken on half (at most) of spending for-profit insurers handle. Eliminating those profits would save about 2 percent. Since health care gets 4.5 percent more expensive every year, that would in effect roll prices back to last August.
The advocates say that we'll be able to negotiate better deals with pharmaceutical companies.  Maybe, like President Trump says, they're all awfully crappy negotiators now because Medicare is already the largest single-payer system in the world, and if they can't get a better deal now why should we think they'll negotiate better in the future?  That's an argument against Medicare for all, not for it.

What exactly has the Federal Government ever taken over and reduced costs over time?  Not education. Not defense. Not police and fire protection.

In what country is single-payer making health care cheaper from one year to the next?  Not one.of the 36.

Not to insult any of my dear readers, but if healthcare costs were going down, the growth rate would be negative and there's not one negative growth rate on this chart, which includes the UK's National Health Service, Canada and other places always put up as a paragon we should try to reach.  In fact, the US has a cost growth rate in the lowest third of all 36 countries.

Which says if we were to go to single-payer and even held costs down at the average rate, our costs would go up not down. 

Where has adopting single-payer lowered costs?  Kelly can't find any country that has lowered costs.

Granted that the first few years of the NHS in the aftermath of WWII were abnormal in the UK (and much of the world), but ...
In the first year, it spent 32 times what it had planned for eyeglasses. It had to raise salaries to attract more nurses. Prime Minister Clement Attlee pleaded over the radio with citizens not to overburden the system.
In the early days, prescription drug volume tripled and was threatening to collapse the system.  They had to start adding charges for prescriptions, which helped reduce the explosive growth, but over the last 68 years, their costs have gone up an average of 4% per year.

Let's assume there is still some waste in the medical industry.  The thin profits the insurance companies are making seem to be a reasonable indicator that there's not much waste.
Less than a dime of every health care dollar gets distributed to someone as profit. The great majority goes into someone’s paycheck—maybe a nurse, maybe an advertising copywriter, maybe an IT guy at the FDA. Health care is 18 percent of the US economy, which means 30 million of the country’s 165 million jobs.

Any health care reform that has us put fewer dollars in means fewer dollars out to all those people. For costs to halve, 14 million people need to lose their jobs. Or 27 million need to take a 50 percent pay cut. Or there needs to be some combination of the two, all without comparable drops in quality and while handling higher demand.
When the advocates talk about cutting costs, they don't talk about putting people out of work, do they?  Can you imagine a politician campaigning on wanting to put 14 million Americans out of work?

The public in general, but especially leftists, seem to have terribly inaccurate ideas about company profits.  The American Enterprise Institute published a study back in 2015 in which people were asked as rough guess what percentage profit companies make.  The average response was 36%, which is only 5 times higher than reality.

According to this Yahoo!Finance database for 212 different industries, the average profit margin for the most recent quarter was 7.5% and the median profit margin was 6.5% (see chart above). Interestingly, there wasn’t a single industry out of 212 that had a profit margin as high as 36% in the most recent quarter.
With ideas this distorted from reality, it's not surprising that Bernie, Occasional Cortex, and the rest try to sell the idea that they can save money by eliminating that big profit.

The truth, of course, is far more sinister.  By taking control over health care the gets total control over every aspect of your life and death.  It has always been, and still is, the dream of tyrants everywhere to have that control over the masses.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

On the End of a Physical Kilogram Standard

Like many of you, I had come across stories in the last few years saying that Standard Kilogram, long stored in a tightly controlled location in Paris, was going to be replaced by one that can be more precisely defined.  All of the preparation work is done and the switch over to the new standard kg is set for this coming May.  The standard kilogram, formally referred to as the “the International Prototype Kilogram,” or IPK, is the last of the real, physical objects used as a standard in the SI, Systeme Internationale, or International System of Units - what Americans typically call the metric system.  I was puzzled about how mass could be linked to other fundamental quantities used as standards in a practical way. 

Let me back up for moment.  Normal people rarely think about this, but how do we know exactly what something like a kilogram weighs?  To what accuracy?  Welcome to the science of metrology: how things are defined and measured.  This could get quite deep and long and is mostly things I'm only dimly aware of, but I also know from conversations with others that it's a realm that most people are completely unaware of.

Back to the kilogram.  Scales that balance two things against each other go back to 2000 BC, so a simple way to measure a kilogram is to compare something else to the standard kilogram.  "Standard" just means everyone agrees that it is the standard.  The International Bureau of Weights and Measures (another French acronym - BIPM) is an intergovernmental organization in which countries work together to define standards and create measurement methods that anyone can use so that their measurements can agree.  That leaves us in a lurch - we need to create a standard kilogram.  The standard used to be defined as the weight of cube of water a tenth of a meter on each side (one liter) at just above freezing.  This relies on two other standards: length and temperature.  The meter was defined as one/ten-millionth of the distance from the equator to the north pole (on the meridian through through Paris, France) and the Celsius temperature scale was defined by the freezing and boiling temperatures of water at standard pressures.  Don't ask me how they calculated that fraction of the distance between the equator and the north pole because the same problem of a standard exists there.

I'm going to skip over a ton of interesting history here, but the important points are how the standards have been redefined over and over and that recent changes have been in an attempt to relate them to fundamental characteristics of nature that can be measured anywhere (with sufficient sophistication).  The standard meter used to be the distance between two scratches on an iron bar kept in Paris.  Later (1875) that was upgraded to a 90% platinum 10% iridium bar.  Similarly, the standard kilogram changed in 1799 from that "liter of water just above freezing" to a (much smaller) platinum bar and then to another  90% platinum 10% iridium bar also kept in Paris.  In principle, someone could make a duplicate of the BIPM standard by placing the standard and their work on opposite ends of a balance and refining the one they're working on until the weight exactly balanced the BIPM standard.  That would then be a secondary standard. 

Starting in the 1960s, metrologists began an effort to use fundamental properties anyone could observe.  For example, the meter is now defined as the distance light travels, in a vacuum, in 1/299,792,458 seconds with time measured by a cesium-133 atomic clock which emits pulses of radiation at 9.192631770 GHz (Gigahertz or billions of cycles per second).  Counting this number of pulses tells you one second to very high precision.  The distance light travels during one of those pulses tells you the length of the meter. 

The NIST's (US') standard kilogram, front, under double bell jars.  Behind are stainless secondary standards of various sizes.  NIST photo. 

The key to how the kg will now be defined is to use the best known value for Planck's constant, h on that card which relates energy to frequency.  They are changing Planck's constant to be defined rather than measured, which turns the kg into a derived unit from fundamental properties of the universe.
In theory, the seven defining constants [first figure - SiG]  allow anyone, anywhere, to recreate “perfect” calibration and metrology standards without need for comparison to a master. For example, SI has redefined the kilogram using a fixed value for Planck’s constant and the definition of the meter and second, which are already based on constants. Using these, a mass of any magnitude can be realized by equating the electromagnetic force it takes to hold that mass against the force of gravity using a Kibble balance.
(graphic from the Suplee/NIST)
This instrument uses the fundamental E = mc2 relationship between mass and energy, along with the extremely accurate value for Planck’s constant (which relates a photon’s energy to its frequency). Scientists and engineers can now relax, knowing that they can achieve the extraordinary accuracy they need for mass measurements without checking their “master” kilogram at NIST or at similar measurement institutes at other countries.

The replacement of the master kilogram as an artifact with a reproducible primary standard represents the culmination of a long-sought dream of metrology experts. Now, none of the defining constants and primary standards are tied to a single physical artifact that could be damaged, lost, stolen, or even changed over time for uncontrolled reasons, as the IPK and Earth’s orbit have been doing.
There's an interesting page on the Kibble balance (named for Bryan Kibble at the U.K.’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL)) on the NIST web page, including a good video of how it works.  As you might imagine, at the level of precision they need - the sheer number of decimal places they're aiming for - everything matters and has to be taken into account.